Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Housman’s Razor

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Poetry indeed seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognised the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was described in connexion with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: “A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.” Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keats’s last letters, where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne, “everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.” The seat of this sensation is the pit of the stomach.

A.E. Housman, “The Name and Nature of Poetry”

Written by nevalalee

January 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm

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